Between the ages of 14 and 17, staying up all night and into the next day was my idea of a great time. Me and my best friend Seamus McGrath would even boast about it to each other and to other friends. “So, how much sleep did you get last night? Oh me? Hmmm, let me count them out…” then we would count our fingers until abruptly shouting “NONE!” All-nighters lost their appeal as I got older, but they still do occur in cases of last minute packing and essay writing. Last last Thursday night, on my last night of my last undergraduate degree, before my last exam, having to finish my last edit of my last assignment, I had a night of firsts.
Thursday afternoon I meet with my thesis supervisor to go over my thesis page by page with his revisions. He gave me the option to further delay handing it in, but it had gone long enough and I was determined to slay the dragon and move on with my life. A couple posts ago I called on aliens, vampires, zombies and mothra – this time I want you to picture the hero of a horror movie featuring an ever dwindling group of survivors stuck on a spaceship or remote research station with a bloodthirsty monster of some sort. The hero has had enough:
Now picture the hero as me, with a giant stack of paper, a red pen and a dwindling supply of snacks.
It was like my whole life of rarely drinking coffee and pop had been preparing me for this moment. Keeping my tolerance to caffeine strategically low has helped me save the drug as my emergency cheat code for situations like this. I walked into Rooster’s (our student association-owned coffee shop), approached the counter and confidently said “I guess I’ll have a, like, um, a regular… coffee?”
I knew that if I were to sit in front of a computer all of the content I had in my head would vaporize into nothingness – so me, my paper, pen and snacks set up in the almost deserted atrium. During the day, Carleton University’s atrium is normally a hub social and political activity with clubs, recruiters and student politicians competing for your attention as you pass by, but at 10:30 on a Thursday night during exams all you will find there are a few desperate students like myself and teams of desperate design students desperately setting up to exhibit their final projects.
Having a proofreader on the other side of the planet is handy because you can get overnight service – send a draft at night, go to bed, and wake up the next day with a revised draft in the morning. Chloe was on call in Haifa, Israel to do a final read through, but I realized that there was no more time. I e-mailed her using my iPod to tell her that at this point, the most helpful thing would be for her to pray that I maintain focus.
Food is normally the variable that draws me back home, and being at home draws me to bed, and going to bed draws me into never graduating from university. I was only halfway though my task and my snack supply was falling dangerously low just as a guy walks into the atrium with four giant trays of food he had just taken from a function that had just ended somewhere else on campus, rescuing the food from certain death at the hands of the catering company’s clean-up crew.
I was the first person to take him up on his insincere offer to partake, and the other desperate students desperately followed. These veggies, fruit, brownies and brie were a God-send that told me that I wasn’t to go home that night. We strangers stood around the trays and talked about how freaking awesome this free food was as others began calling friends that were hiding in far flung corners of the campus cramming to tell them about the discovery.
Having not been on campus so late before, I was blown away by the subculture of students that stay on campus long after the library closes at 2:00am. Around that time I found a computer lab and began entering the revisions into the soft copy of the paper until all the machines became possessed by some invisible power that logged us out and went into a some sort of maintenance mode. The Indian guys sitting behind me explained that this was a regular occurrence, and the computers could come back online anytime between five minutes to two hours from them. They told me all about the life of a university night owl, showering at the gym, eating at the cafeteria and always keeping your toothbrush and a change of underwear. My Hindi didn’t impress them as much as I had hoped it would, perhaps because they were Pakistani and not Indian.
Given that I had an exam the next day, they advised me to get some sleep, or my brain might go into an indefinite maintenance mode like the computers we were waiting on. The bench I found below a window gave me flashbacks from sleeping on the train in India last winter, only this time I didn’t have the body of a strange man lying next to me to keep me warm.
Halfway through my nap I heard some noises, opened my eyes and saw a girl climbing on top of the soda machines on the other side of the lobby. I couldn’t imagine how or why she was doing it, and was too exhausted to care.
One of the strangest things about staying up all night is that it merges two days into one, with nothing to mark the end of one and beginning of another. It was now Friday and everyone came back to campus bathed and wearing different clothes while I was there the whole time, my feet smelling so bad they hurt. In the end, I finished my last paper and wrote my last exam on Friday night without my brain exploding in the slightest. The moral of the story is this: Don’t do what I did by putting it off all year. Stay on campus all night tonight.